Welcome back to yet another installment of the Brew Hoop Round Table, where we ask that everybody use coasters and please don’t feed the aging pugs from the table, thanks. The Milwaukee Bucks have finished another regular season, their first as reigning NBA champions in 50 years. Was it everything that they needed, or everything that we wanted? How do their chances for a repeat look? Pull up a chair and join us...at the Brew Hoop Round Table!
The Bucks finished with a 51-31 record, and 3rd place in the East. Is that better than, worse than, or about what you expected?
Kyle: It seems about right, especially with Brook Lopez’s injury. The Bucks took some games off and overall showed what they are capable of when they are dialed in. Milwaukee was still battling for the East top seed, which still puts them in a good place to win the East.
Mitchell: In SBNation’s season previews, I pegged the Bucks for 51-31 and 2nd place in the Eastern Conference. Not a bad prediction, I almost nailed it! Here’s what I wrote then, and what I still hold true today:
Milwaukee will tread lightly at the beginning of the season, knowing that it’s a marathon and not a sprint to get where they want to go. Pundits and casuals alike will see an underperforming Bucks team and proclaim that their ring was fake, and Milwaukee will take it all and smile. In due time, the team’s excellent strength & conditioning team will get the players into playoff shape, and the reigning champions will somehow enter the postseason as an underdog. Again.
Van: It’s a few games worse than I expected—which was more like a mid-50s win total—but the fact that they’re getting to 50 wins after missing their defensive anchor for almost five months is big. That number might seem very arbitrary, but consider that in a non-shortened season, no conference champion has won fewer than 50 games since 1995, outside of New Jersey in 2003 (who won 49).
Morgan: In line with Van, it’s a few games worse than anticipated - because I didn’t see Brook’s injury in my crystal ball.
Riley: Somewhere in the 50-wins region felt correct given how many miles the team racked up last season and over the course of a short offseason. I had assumed we’d dial back and manage minutes even more than in the previous two years which, in a way, we did. That the team weather that and ended up near the top of the East regardless is a testament to the understanding between our talent and coaching staff.
Julie: Over the course of the season, I wound up gradually having them go 54-28, which isn’t bad. I blame the Trail Blazers and Pistons. Still, I probably would have thought they would cruise through this conference, and the surprises from Toronto, Cleveland and somewhat Chicago probably threw the whole thing out of mix.
What was the best part of the regular season?
Kyle: The season opener. A great ring ceremony followed by a beatdown by a team everyone wanted to already crown champions. Milwaukee made sure to quickly remind people who the defending champions were from tip-off.
Mitchell: For me, the best part was after Brook came back, and the Bucks took down both the Sixers and Nets in thrilling fashion. Milwaukee re-asserted itself amidst the jockeying for seeding position and think-pieces about anything but the Bucks. Even if he doesn't actually win it, Giannis is the real MVP.
Van: The Christmas Day comeback against the Celtics is up there and so is Opening Night. However, I had the fortune of covering the thrilling OT win in Brooklyn last week and only a big postseason W will be able to top that.
Morgan: I’ll be sappy and say: writing for Brew Hoop! (And each and every Mamu minute, of course.)
Riley: Absolutely romping the Bulls. Hard for me to describe how sickening it was watching their fans crow about how they were a team of destiny and, perhaps worse, seeing that same sick thinking spill into the wider national discourse. Chicago has one season where they win more than 25 games and suddenly think they’re back on our level. The Knicks of the Midwest.
Julie: A lot of good answers, and getting some of my predictions correct is always good. I also just like that on a random Tuesday the stars align and there is a Bucks’ game to watch when it’s a freezing day in January. I also like that we beat Brooklyn in the season series!
If you could pick one thing to have been different from October to now, what would it be?
Kyle: While a backup big man seems like the obvious answer, I would say that getting another ball handler would have fixed some of Milwaukee’s issues. The delayed return and eventual departure of Donte DiVincenzo and George Hill’s inconsistency has meant the Bucks haven’t had a competent ball handler if Jrue Holiday isn’t available. I’m not sure who they could have brought in, but that seems to be a bigger issue than Brook Lopez’s absence.
Mitchell: Hindsight is 20/20, and Serge Ibaka hasn’t been required to have the sort of impact Milwaukee might have needed if Brook Lopez wasn’t back in action. But his acquisition doesn’t have the same “pop” that the PJ Tucker trade had last season, and it’s likely that the Bucks were never in the running for any deals that would have brought in a serious wing defender. All things considered, it’s tough to ask for anything different when the season didn’t go that badly.
Van: I mean, it’s Lopez remaining healthy, right? That would have added a few more wins. Now that he’s back and looking great, it’s all gravy. I think Jon Horst did a great job of addressing Milwaukee’s deficiencies in-season with trades. The transactions people quibbled with (cutting Cousins, the return for DiVincenzo, etc.) don’t mean that much: are we really gonna point to such things if Milwaukee comes up short this postseason?
Morgan: I’m with Mitchell here; we are where we want to be, and the adversity we faced forced Bud to continue to tinker with defensive schemes that could prove handy.
Riley: A few more first-half-of-the-season appearances from Jrue Holiday. I think with some more minutes to add to his case, he would’ve absolutely been a deserving All-Star this year. That early season ankle injury and then entering the Covid protocols derailed that campaign.
Julie: I think it would have been fun to watch the Bucks steamroll through the East after winning the Finals, similar to the Heat after LeBron won his first there. It’s also too bad some of the acquisitions, like DeAndre Bembry and Rodney Hood, didn’t turn out.
Like last year, the Bucks are entering the playoffs near full strength. How do you like their postseason chances?
Kyle: With a healthy Brook, I think Milwaukee would be the favorites to win the East. They may run into an issue depending on who represents the West. Lopez’s presence can cause issues for Bam Adebayo, provides a physical presence for Joel Embiid or Jarrett Allen, and allows Giannis and Jrue to cause havoc for everyone else.
Mitchell: The Milwaukee Bucks should beat any Eastern Conference team they match up against in a seven-game series. Full stop. They have earned the right to be called “favorites” even if no one wants to actually recognize that fact. That’s not to say that Milwaukee can’t be beaten, but they should be favored to make it back to the NBA Finals.
Van: I really like their chances to win the East, now that Lopez is back to his old tricks and Giannis somehow found another stratosphere to jump into. Barring injury, I’d be surprised if they lose any series, and maybe even surprised if any of them go 7 games.
Morgan: Brook’s presence goes a long way, but with Giannis, Khris, and Jrue logging significant minutes in a compact rotation, it’s hard not to like our chances.
Riley: We’ll be pretty good, and we’ll also shoot ~15% from three as a team all playoffs, so it’ll roughly even out.
Julie: I’m glad we start out with the Bulls. Let’s win that first. But seriously, I don’t see us losing to anyone, but on a lesser sense I also can see us losing to everyone but Chicago (aside from Charlotte or Cleveland, but they likely won’t make it).
What two teams are the biggest challenge on the road back to the NBA Finals?
Mitchell: I’m with Kyle on this one, I simply can’t bring myself to fear anyone in the Eastern Conference. The Toronto Raptors have consistently been a problem for the Bucks, so I’ll go with them as one team. The Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers are probably the other two candidates, but the Brooklyn Nets always play Milwaukee well and the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics are all looming. Never say never, I suppose?
Van: You guys are right. A second-round matchup with playoff opponents whom Milwaukee vanquished in years past (namely Boston and Brooklyn) will be interesting and pundit fodder, but I don’t expect either team to beat Milwaukee. KD will get his and Kyrie Irving will too, but we’ve seen how this team can weather that storm, plus Brooklyn can’t stop anyone, let alone Giannis. Tatum is still an uneven postseason performer and his elite defensive team lacks anyone who can even slightly slow down Giannis unless Robert Williams (no, I will not call him by his insanely stupid nickname) is fully healthy. Philly does not strike fear into me at all. I don’t even need to address Chicago. Bud, Giannis, Middleton, and Lopez are not far enough removed from the bubble upset to permit anything similar to happen when facing Miami. We also know that the Bucks lacking home-court advantage doesn’t phase them.
Morgan: I’m also partial to Alicia, but I’ll elect the hottest team (the Celtics) and the team with the scariest player (the Nets).
Riley: Ourselves and whoever we play in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Julie: The path is Chicago, Boston/Brooklyn and then Miami/Philadelphia/Toronto. So I’ll pick one from each group, and start with Boston. They won’t have Robert Williams, but they will have home court. They also have been hotter than the Suns (lol I guess?) since January 29th or something like that, and almost beat us without Jayson Tatum and Al Horford as well. I then am most scared of Toronto, partially from ghosts past and not beating them (they weren’t at full strength either, and they have even less depth than us), but they likely won’t make it that far. Would that make it Miami? Like last season, if we get to the Conference Finals, the Finals will be well within reach, since the real challenge is Boston/Brooklyn, assuming Toronto doesn’t pull off what the Hawks did last year.
What are you most worried about?
Kyle: The refs rewarding Embiid/Harden’s grifting, or a player testing positive for COVID/getting injured.
Mitchell: At this point, the Bucks are their own most formidable opponent. If they don’t execute, if the coaching goes awry or the rotation is wonky or the passes aren’t on-target or the defensive rotations aren’t on-point, the team that should beat anybody could be beaten by anybody. But we have Giannis, so it should be fine.
Van: Any of the following players getting hurt (in descending order of alarm): Giannis, Middleton, Holiday, Lopez, Connaughton, Matthews, Portis, or Allen. Also Phoenix.
Morgan: We have to beat four teams four times! I’m worried that, if we fall short, it will be proclaimed as entirely the Bucks’ fault, with little regard for the difficulty of the feat.
Riley: Bud putting on a blindfold and picking names out of a hat for who gets to come off the bench and who gets that fifth starter spot. Something about having 10 players who can shoulder minutes makes me very worried about how strange our rotation might get from time to time.
Julie: Aside from last season, it always seems that something happens that causes problems and ends a season in Wisconsin sports. Like an overtime touchdown (thank GOD that rule changed), or only scoring when Rowdy Tellez homers in spite of excellent pitching. I’m not saying weird stuff will happen, but I’m still very prepared for it to happen. We may be great and are the favorites, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. The Packers were the favorites, twice. The Brewers were the favorites. The Badgers had the “easiest” road to the Sweet 16 and blew it. On paper, we should win at least four times out of seven in most instances, but isn’t that the beauty of watching that we don’t know what will happen?
That’s what we think. What about you? Tell us your answers in the comments below, or add questions that you have for the community to answer!